CULTURE

The single’s golden era in Greece

In contrast to the current era’s oversupply of music and its subsequent drop in quality, there used to be a time when releasing music was not that simple. When new material did surface, there tended to be a sense of importance attached to it. The process of buying music on the old vinyl format was a ritual in itself for the youth of the 1970s. That generation spent time at music stores sifting through shelves of records. A decade earlier, the 7-inch single had been the joy of entire families, especially those with little money to spare for luxury purchases. Loaded with three or four hit songs, these old singles, played on portable turntables, were the life and soul of family gatherings and parties. Those old singles – whose contents nowadays can only be found either in compilations or at second-hand record shops, mostly in the Monastiraki flea market, at collectors’ prices – were the means for testing new songs on the masses, but not before they had been endorsed by the public at live shows. In those days, the record industry was less gluttonous and artists demanded less. All this is well documented in a new publication, «Ta Magika 45aria kai i Epochi tous» (The Magical Singles and their Era) (Iliotropio Press) by Costas Balachoutis, a researcher and specialist. The book examines and presents details about the era of the single, its social implications, the cover art work, record companies behind the production, the period’s leading artists, as well as behind-the-scene events during recording sessions. «There were established periods for new releases, four times a year,» Balachoutis, the book’s writer, told Kathimerini. «Besides Greek popular (laiko), record label catalogs of the era included Greek folk, as well as the so-called ‘lighter’ songs,» he added. Until the mid-1930s, recordings were conducted «in hotel halls adapted to the needs of the session, during which musicians and singers performed concurrently before the recording equipment,» the writer notes. Period photos, included in the publication, illustrate how it was all set up. «Up until the late ’50s, even the early ’60s – the period of transition from the old 78s [for the gramophone] to the 7-inch single – instruments and voices were recorded simultaneously,» he adds, while noting that for these live recordings, musicians were placed at specific points around the room to capture the desired recording levels of each instrument. The 7-inch single emerged in the late ’50s, when other customs and rituals around entertainment still prevailed. For instance, venues offered their customers full menus, including wine, rather than the whiskey-and-nuts offering of ensuing years. Columbia and His Master’s Voice were the two labels that boasted the most renowned and commercially successful acts of the mid-1960s. Seven-inch singles released by the two record labels during the period were guaranteed commercial successes. Interestingly, in contrast to today’s miserable reality in the music business, where individuals lacking musical knowledge hold key posts, record labels of the past were steered by knowledgeable artistic directors. Quite often, they were musicians themselves. «People serving as artistic directors were individuals such as [Vassilis] Tsitsanis, [Manolis] Hiotis, [Apostolos] Kaldaras… [Theodoros] Derveniotis played a major role at Columbia – in other words, people straight from the musical world,» noted Balachoutis, mentioning several Greek music legends. «The Magical Singles and their Era» is loaded with trivia and photographs. Some of the stories told include how the late composer Manos Hadjidakis founded the label «Ilissos» with key figures Alekos Patsifas and Dinos Karydis; commentary on the sensational sales figures of a series of singles featuring the popular actress Aliki Vouyiouklaki – they sold as many as 300,000 copies each – details regarding the pivotal label Lyra, whose history is synonymous with the evolution of Greek music, as well as a focus on cover art in Greek discography. According to Balachoutis, the late singer Stelios Kazantzidis reigned supreme in terms of sales during the 7-inch singles era. The partnership, consisting of Hiotis, a prolific songwriter-musician, and vocalist Mary Linda, monopolized local singles sales for five years, between 1959 and 1963. Owners of such singles today can consider themselves lucky. Singles that failed to become hits during their time rank as items with heightened collector’s value today. «Releases that weren’t successful during their time are rare today,» noted the book’s author. Prices reached today depend on how much collectors are willing to offer. «They can go sky-high», said Balachoutis. Incidentally, «The Magical Singles and their Era» comes with a 7-inch single carrying four songs by Hiotis.